“That’s not our role as friends,” she said. And it was then I realized that we have very different ideas of what friendship means. It was easier when we were younger. Then it was clear— we were all tumbling through life and making mistakes together. Friendship met being there while you were forming ridiculous memories and being there to help clean up the mess you had made. Sometimes you watched your friend make a stupid mistake. And that was fine, because we all make stupid mistakes— yours would be next.
But as we grow older, choices become more significant, more permanent. With jobs, with moves, with relationships— we’re no longer deciding whether to go out tonight or actually write that essay. Suddenly the choices are so large they can affect the rest of our lives. But how does friendship change with that?
As we grow older, it seems as though camps are forming. Some of my friends fall firmly on the ‘support’ side. No matter what a friend says they are doing— no matter how much you disagree— you should tell them it’s great and be elated for them, because that’s what friendship is. Others of us all fall more on the ‘tell it like it is’ side— we think friendship often means tough love, but still being there on the other side whether they listen to you or not. And though they both sound like reasonable points of view, when they collide things can get messy.
Relationships And Friendships
And nothing shows the collision more fully than your friend’s relationship choices. When someone presents you with a new partner who you isn’t right or you don’t like— or you may even be concerned isn’t good for them. What do you do? I’ve watched friend groups split down the middle. Some smile and gush to their faces— and then immediately start complaining in private. It sounds two-faced but the truth is, they genuinely believe that they’re being the best, most supportive friends, they can be. But when did support become synonymous with lying? How is it supportive to watch your friends make mistakes and spend the whole time pretending?
Now obviously you have to respect your friend’s independence— they know their own minds and lives much better than you do. But, as we age, what’s wrong with admitting that we’re not sure about something, though we’re glad they’re happy? If it’s done with kindness and compassion, if you’re still welcoming and kind to your friend’s partner, what’s the problem? Well the problem is that we become more precious and defensive of our decisions as we get older. So if you express concerns, you risk pushing your friend away. I’m not sure there is a right answer.
A Messy Mixture
Instead, we just do the best we can. For me, that means a messy mix of support and honesty. Luckily, one of my best friends is cut from the same cloth. Many of my conversations with her will involve one of us saying, “I love you but I think this is a really dumb idea. I see why you have to make and I’ll be there when it falls apart.” Is it harsh? Absolutely. But it’s also honest and in no way means that we don’t care about each other. It may not be perfect, but it’s works for us.
So as your friendships mature and age— and you mature and age along with them— you need to decide what support means to you. Is it a uncritical cheerleader? A brutal truth teller? Or somewhere between the two? Because life is complicated and you want good people on your side.